Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez began a November 8 press conference, the first with the international media for many weeks, with a passionate statement against Israel's war on Palestinians, which had killed four children and two women that morning.
He went on to answer eight questions from the assembled media in a little over four hours, covering topics ranging from the results of the US election and its significance for Venezuela, the war on Iraq, the victory of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua's presidential elections, to the achievements of his government during the last eight years.
Green Left Weekly was fortunate to be chosen to ask one of the questions. GLW asked about the next step in building "socialism of the 21st century", which Chavez declared in January 2005 to be the goal of the Bolivarian revolution, assuming he wins the December 3 presidential election, as polls suggest he will comfortably. Chavez responded that the emphasis would be placed on "socialist ethics". He said this would emphasise solidarity as opposed to hollow individualism and consumerism. Another important element would be the creation of socialist democracy. This, explained Chavez, involved the consolidation of "participatory, popular, and protagonist democracy".
Next, it would involve the creation of a socialist economic model, with the emphasis on self-management, cooperatives or joint worker-state co-managed workplaces. The government has been working on this for the last eight years, building a bridge between the old capitalist economic relations and the future socialist system.
According to Chavez, Venezuela's effort to create socialism had its own, original, indigenous and "Bolivarian" model. It would have little to do with the model of Soviet Russia, which the Russian people had not been prepared to defend. Chavez also called it "Indo-American socialism", explaining that indigenous peoples of the Americas already practiced a form of socialism that would have to be recovered. Finally, it is not a model that would be imposed on Venezuela from above, but is to be constructed by Venezuelans themselves.
Chavez was invited to visit Australia on behalf of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network, an invitation to which he readily agreed, saying he had never seen Australia and would be happy to meet with the Australian people. He sent a warm, affectionate greeting to Australia and indicated we should discuss the visit with foreign affairs minister Nicolas Maduro.
In the unlikely event that he loses the election, Chavez said he would have no hesitation in handing over the reins of state to opposition candidate Manuel Rosales, but stressed that he had not received any assurance from the opposition that "they were going to respect the results". When he won power in 1999, Chavez said the previous government would not even give him a set of keys to Miraflores, the presidential palace.
The night before, Chavez had met with defence minister Raul Isaias Baduel, to prepare a plan of counter-attack if the right-wing opposition, which previously staged a short-lived military coup, tried to disrupt public order after the elections. "We don't want any act of violence, but if they go into the street to block-off roads, shoot pistols and burn so many things, we will be obliged to bring order. The next day the armed forces will be in the streets." He added that his new government could ask the National Assembly for a change in the law to apply sanctions if election candidates withdraw because they know they are going to lose. In the December 2005 elections for the National Assembly, the opposition, on orders from the US State Department, withdrew their candidates a week before the election. He said, "If they don't have any deputies, it's their fault, as they withdrew".
During the press conference, it was announced that US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld had resigned. But no-one in this group of largely unsympathetic international media representatives clapped, except yours truly.